Updated: Feb 17
By: Dakota Smith
It exists in many of the spaces we inhabit. When I meet black people who tell me, "I've never experienced Racism" I want to take a step in their shoes. See what their eyes have seen because I thought I was one of those people for a long time.
When I was younger, I was watching Channel 14 news with my mother. Someone on the television was just charged with "Rape" and growing up I didn't know what that was. Along with marijuana, crack, cocaine, homosexuality, and many other things, I was naive. I asked my mom "What does that word mean". She told me "It's when someone forces another to have sex against their will." At nine years old I was speechless. "Oh wow, okay" were the only words my mouth could form, and I went to school.
Language (the words we use and the tongue that we speak) formulates the reality that a person lives in; without the proper language, someone may not understand that they live in a racist world. That it surrounds their environments and living experiences. That it is not only about singular moments, but the grand picture that a person lives in. Growing up, my brain may not have understood specific language, but my gut told me where to go, whom to follow, and whom to trust. Regardless, I was a kid who trusted so many and learned the hard way that this world didn't create a comfortable space for people like me.
At 13 years old, I realized that I am a Black Gay Man. (Black=Oppressed, Gay=Oppressed Man=Oppressor/Privileged). I never understood who I truly was and the world I resided in without these three identities coming together. I always knew I was black, but never understood what that title meant.
People were always quick to point out what a "Thug" was, but when I saw them, I just thought they were men/boys. When I was a child in the early 2000s the “Thugs” would be the guys sporting the freshest pair of Tims or Jordans, with some baggy jeans (or jean shorts) and maybe a wife beater or oversized white tee. I never thought they were bad people because they were my cousins, uncles, and my family, but the word has created a negative connotation in a white-dominated society. Many times I would try to hang out with them and put myself into their world, yet (along with me being much younger than many) I knew I didn't completely fit in with them. It was my parents' desire for me to be similar to them, yet I never understood why. I was forced into basketball lessons and pushed to wear the newest Nikes, but as I grew, I found a passion for soccer, Adidas, and writing stories. I was never the typical black boy.
My mother told me that "drugs were bad" and it was a slogan I stuck by. I always told my father he was bad for smoking those drugs (cigarettes), without understanding that the cancer sticks were only the tip of the iceberg.
In elementary school, there were three programs: Learning Immersion (for the black neighborhood kids), Talent Development (Mixed group, mostly white), and Horizons (All white and Asian with about three black students). I was friends with the Learning Immersion kids, while I was a part of Talent Development, yet I knew I couldn't be closely associated with them. This is because we were physically and socially segregated by our intelligence and race. We crossed paths early in the morning during breakfast at school (that only black students attended), but our classes were never mixed because it was a magnet program. In this program, you had to reach a certain intelligence level, determined by a test only a few were eligible to take. Magnet programs are pivotal in creating great leaders in our society, but some of those advanced standards should be taught to all students regardless of their intellect because education is a gift that only a few are allotted.
By the age of 13, it was as if a train crashed into me and destroyed every sentiment of normalcy in my life. This idea of me being a straight, white-passing (by association with primarily white people) boy shattered. the pieces reconstructed into who I am today, but it took time. I slowly realized how black people looked at me, my actions, and my friends. This, in turn, made me look at them and they became my mirror. The reflection displayed the person I could've been, the person who I am, and the person who I would eventually grow into. This newfound sight between me and them opened myself up to new relationships with the black people I was surrounded by. This experience taught me how to start loving all parts of my identity, regardless of what the black community has been taught to hate.
The drugs that my father used and sold became real when the dogs came and sniffed our lockers during class for marijuana. My blackness found a spot in society after being introduced to the film "Paris is Burning" which shed light on my parents' homophobia (that they tried to teach me) which led to a deeper understanding of the city I was born in (New York City).
Just because Larry didn't call you a Nigger in the middle of Trade St, doesn't mean that you haven't been systemically affected by the racist society that is America. You may not have been called a racial slur, but if (for example) you’re black, work full-time, and only make $25,000 a year because your parents told you that they couldn't afford for you to attend college, this is a direct correlation to racism. No curses or racially charged words need to affirm the destiny this country has had a part in carving for you. If you learn that you want more from this society because it has yet to give you enough, fight for it.
Me speaking to protestors on the last day of (What the public described as) the militant protests in Winston-Salem NC